Gideon is not a deliverer to whom only one verse is dedicated, like Shamgar. Nor is he a deliverer standing in the shadow of a woman, like Barak. In Gideon we have a deliverer who is conceived and trained by God Himself. In contrast to the above mentioned judges, Gideon enables us to see his personal exercises and how he is led to align with God’s thoughts.
God goes to work with Gideon. With wisdom and patience He makes Gideon an instrument that He can use to bless His people. The way God deals with Gideon is an example of how God prepares everyone who knows and loves Him and desires to serve Him to perform a service for Him. This service does not consist of a one-off action, but of a whole life of service.
1 Given into the Hands of Midian
1 Then the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD gave them into the hands of Midian seven years.
After forty years of rest, it again happens. A new generation has emerged in Israel. For them, God’s interference with His people in the past is nothing but a thing of the past. This new generation is no better than their fathers. They also do what is evil in the eyes of the LORD. Again God must let His discipline come upon the people. He loves them too much to let them go on the wrong path.
God wants to deal with His people. He would like to tell them what lives in His heart for them. He would also like them to tell Him what is in their hearts for Him. How it must grieve God to see His people react to all His love. He wants to instruct and teach His people through their fellowship with Him. If they don’t want to, He must instruct and teach them through the hands of an enemy.
This time God uses Midian. Midian is a family people of Israel. They are connected with each other through Abraham. Midian is a son of Abraham and Ketura (Gen 25:1-2). Seven years, which speaks of a complete period, the Israelites sigh under this domination. The name Midian means ‘strife’. Is this enemy not recognizable in the lives of many deviated Christians? Is he not also present in communities of faith where people are at odds with each other? In the following verses we see the effect of this.
2 In the Dens, the Caves and the Strongholds
2 The power of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of Midian the sons of Israel made for themselves the dens which were in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds.
Never before had the Israelites sunk so deeply. They are forced to be vagrants and refugees in their own land and they lose their freedom. This is the result when God’s people no longer appreciate the things of God. The people are scattered, each digs his own hiding place, there is no unity anymore.
In a community of Christians where one can no longer enjoy together the blessings that God has given, where one no longer listen together to the Bible, quarrels and struggles easily prevail. Instead of looking at the Lord Jesus together, they look at each other. In doing so, one does not try to discover anything of the Lord Jesus in each other, but is annoyed by each other. The relationships can then become so clouded that there is no longer any trust in each other.
Instead of friendship, openness, trust, freedom, we keep our mouth shut and avoid each other. Suspicion comes and whispers behind the hand. They have buried themselves in their own positions, the dens and caves and the strongholds. It will be a trench war. The end is that one bites and eats each other (Gal 5:15). In this way the beauty of the Christian fellowship is corrupted and long-term friendships are broken. Lives bitter and faith communities explode.
3 When Israel Had Sown
3 For it was when Israel had sown, that the Midianites would come up with the Amalekites and the sons of the east and go against them.
The enemy knows exactly when he has to come: when Israel has sown. He will do everything he can to prevent the sowing from rising, so that there is no food for the people and it becomes powerless. To weaken the believer, Satan does his utmost to deprive him of his food. Through all kinds of things he stop him from reading the Bible or to go to meetings to be build up in the faith. He knows very well what means he can use with every member of God’s people, drawing from a great arsenal.
The Midianites don’t come alone. Amalek is also there. Amalek is a picture of the flesh. These two enemies always go hand in hand. In Galatians 5, one of the works of the flesh is called “strife” (Gal 5:20). Consequently, a multitude of all kinds of evil goes along, which we see represented in “the sons of the east”. Satan mobilizes all his powers to prevent a believer from collecting anything from the fruits of the land.
4 - 5 No Sheep, Ox, or Donkey
4 So they would camp against them and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel as well as no sheep, ox, or donkey. 5 For they would come up with their livestock and their tents, they would come in like locusts for number, both they and their camels were innumerable; and they came into the land to devastate it.
Gaza is a Philistine place. Here, as elsewhere, the Philistines make themselves one with the enemies of Israel. Gaza is a large warehouse for stolen goods brought there by the Midianites. So the proceeds of the land end up in Philistine hands.
We have seen before that Philistines represent nominal Christians, people who claim to belong to the people of God, but do not belong to them because they have no life from God. They claim the fruit of the land, the spiritual blessing, for themselves, while they rob it from those who truly form the people of God. This can only happen by the unfaithfulness of God’s people, the church, because they do not live in what God has given. The joint enemies ensure that nothing remains for God’s people to live from. As a result, there is no power.
What is left of the church when it comes to her testimony in the world? We see it in the book Acts. How powerful is her witness in the beginning. But that power has disappeared. One of the reasons for this is that in Christianity the Bible is no longer presented to Christians as the real food. People who do not possess the Spirit have ‘conquered’ the Bible and explain it according to their own insights. Another cause is that Christians themselves are not open to the pure Word of God. Paul warns Timothy that there will come a time “when they will not endure sound doctrine; but [wanting] to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” (2Tim 4:3).
Thus, “no sustenance in Israel as well as no sheep, ox, or donkey” is left. If the Bible no longer contains food for the Christian, it is over with the sacrifice, of which sheep and ox speak, and the service for the Lord, of which the donkey speaks.
6 Brought Very Low
6 So Israel was brought very low because of Midian, and the sons of Israel cried to the LORD.
The land of which God has said it is “a land where you will eat food without scarcity” (Deu 8:9), has fallen into great poverty. When we have a Bible at home, we have all the treasures of heaven within reach. But if we do not get around to open the Bible and read it prayerful, it is of no use to us.
We may know that we live in the land, in other words, that we are “blessed … with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly [places] in Christ” (Eph 1:3), but what use do we have of this this if our lives are dominated by bitterness and strife? Despite our wealth we are paupers. It is time to cry out to God, just as the Israelites do, so that He may give an outcome.
7 - 10 A Prophet and His Message
7 Now it came about when the sons of Israel cried to the LORD on account of Midian, 8 that the LORD sent a prophet to the sons of Israel, and he said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘It was I who brought you up from Egypt and brought you out from the house of slavery. 9 I delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians and from the hands of all your oppressors, and dispossessed them before you and gave you their land, 10 and I said to you, “I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But you have not obeyed Me.”‘“
The cry of the Israelites is answered by God, but not with a direct deliverance. God’s answer is not what they expected. Before He is going to deliver His people, something else must first happen. To work that out, God is using a prophet for the first time in this book. He wants his people to feel sin in their conscience.
Their crying is apparently only the result of their misery and is not caused by its origin. In response to their call God’s holy wisdom reveals, through the prophet, the cause of their misery. The aim is for the people to come to a thorough condemnation of this cause. Only then can there be a sustainable recovery.
The prophet shows us the work of the Spirit of God who shakes up the conscience of the people and points out where they have deviated. That is not a task for which the prophet would be thanked. Jeremiah has experienced in person how the people of God would like to kill because of the words he speaks on behalf of God. Yes, as long as prophets say things that people like to hear, they have nothing to fear (Isa 30:10). Such prophets often have great success, but the result is not of long duration.
If God sends a prophet to point out the failures to the people, it is so that they may see and confess the wrong, so that the way is open again for God to bless them. God’s ultimate goal is always blessing. Therefore, a confession cannot be a fleeting, superficial matter. Such a confession does not work real conversion. If something has gone wrong in the life of a believer, it is necessary not only to confess the mistake, but also to understand its cause. A person is only truly restored when he has come to the sincere recognition that his sin has come forth from his sinful nature.
A sin is not a beauty defect, but an expression of the sinful flesh that is not kept where it belongs, namely in death. Those who sincerely acknowledge this will no longer seek excuses for their actions, nor will they seek extenuating circumstances. Honest self-judgment, without declaring others to be guilty or joint guilty, is the best proof of the truthfulness of one’s confession.
The name of the prophet is not mentioned, it does not matter. With a prophet it is all about his message. The prophet does not make a long speech. He bears witness to God’s actions for the benefit of His people in the past. On God’s side there is no failure. He contrasts the faithfulness of God with the disobedience of the people. The good God has done for them should be reason enough to remain faithful to Him. Moreover, He has warned them not to worship any other gods. But unfortunately, the final word, the conclusion of the prophet must be: “But you have not obeyed Me.” This must penetrate deep into the conscience of the people and do its beneficial work there.
In the meantime, the instrument is being prepared for his task. In Gideon, God has chosen to redeem His people.
11 Then the angel of the LORD came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save [it] from the Midianites.
The Angel of the LORD – that is the Lord Jesus, as we have seen before – comes to visit Gideon. Gideon is busy with the yield of the land. He doesn’t want to let it fall into the hand of the Midianites; he wants to enjoy it himself.
The meaning of the names in this verse gives us an impression of Gideon’s state of mind. Ophrah means ‘dust’. Someone who is truly aware of the shame of God’s people, that it is subject to the world, will find himself in the dust. There is no boasting on any particular position, but deep humility. Joash means ‘the LORD is support’. One who knows the weakness and hopelessness of the situation of God’s people will seek and find support in the Lord.
By the name of Abiezer, which means ‘my father is help’, we can think of the same thing, while the thought of a relationship is added to it. We may know God as Father. Gideon means ‘one who hews down’. Everything that increases itself must be hewn down. Soon he will openly honor that name. Now he lives up to that name by throwing himself down into the dust (Ophrah).
Ophrah has an oak tree. The word oak literally means ‘a strong tree’. When we now combine the two, oak and Ophrah, we see a combination of strength and weakness coming forward. We will see in the history of Gideon how the power of God works in the weakness of Gideon.
Gideon is busy beating out wheat in the wine press, an unusual place. The wine press is empty, which means that there is no joy. Wine is a picture of joy (Jdg 9:13). The wine press also suggests judgment (Isa 63:2-3). In days of strife and struggle, when Midian prevails, we can only get some food from the wine press, which is in recognition of the judgment God had to bring upon us.
Whoever really bends under this judgment, may look at the cross. That is ultimately the place where God’s judgment of our unfaithfulness came on the Lord Jesus. For faith there is always food at that place and there only we are safe from ‘Midian’, the spirit of strife, because it cannot exist at the cross.
Gideon represents a principle. In him we see a spirit or mind that can free the people from strife and struggle. He is unconsciously preparing himself to become the deliverer of the people. Those who are busy with the Lord Jesus and His work on the cross as told in the Word of God can be used by God at a certain moment to be a leader, shepherd, elder, deliverer.
12 The Lord Is with You
12 The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O valiant warrior.”
Gideon will have looked up frightened when he suddenly hears a voice saying to him: “The LORD is with you.” Yet he doesn’t get scared. He only becomes this in verse 22 when he realizes Who has visited him. And what about “O valiant warrior”? At first sight, there is nothing of combativeness to be seen in this man hiding from the enemy. But for God it counts that Gideon is determined to provide himself with food. Despite the supremacy of the enemy, despite the fear of the Israelites, here is a man who is busy with the fruit of the land. The personal faithfulness, in a time when everyone accept things as they are, is here in the foreground. That’s what God calls combativeness. Then, in His eyes, we’re a warrior.
If we are personally engaged in deepening food from God’s Word and not participating in or resigning to the ‘strife’ around us, we will experience the special proximity of the Lord. We will hear Him say that He is with us. This commitment applies to every moment we engage with the Bible in a way that we can clearly hear the voice of God. This promise also applies to all the commands He gives us. That is how God begins His conversation with Gideon. Isn’t that an encouraging start?
13 Where Are All the Wonders of God?
13 Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
A conversation starts between Gideon and the LORD. It is wonderful to see how the LORD gives Gideon all the space to say how he experiences things. The LORD always answers Gideon’s questions and answers him in the way only He can do. The answers are full of encouragement for everyone who receives a certain assignment from the Lord. We will see that much can be learned here about the formation of the servant – as we hopefully want to be one – who is to do a work for the Lord. Similar conversations are more common in the Bible, for example between Moses and the LORD (Exo 3:11-22; 4:1-12) and between Ananias and the Lord Jesus (Acts 9:10-19).
If we know that God is calling us to do something for Him, we may talk to Him about it. We may lodge any objections we may have. God listens to us and takes our objections seriously. He answers. There is one condition: God enters into dialogue with us as long as He sees in us the willingness to do what He asks of us. If our objections stem from unbelief and unwillingness, God will not continue with us (Exo 4:13-17).
There is still a beautiful character trait to be seen in Gideon. God has said: “The LORD is with you, O valiant warrior.” What does Gideon say? “If the LORD is with us.” He makes himself one with the whole people. Although Gideon is personally faithful, he does not claim God for himself alone. God is the God of the whole people. The welfare of the whole people is close to his heart and not just his own welfare.
Then come the questions. Gideon has heard of all that God has done for the benefit of His people when He led them out of Egypt. Gideon believes that. He does not doubt the history of the people and what God has done with and for them. But where is God now? Is He not the same anymore? Yes, He is, but the people are not. The LORD has abandoned them, at least Gideon experiences it like that.
In Romans 11 this question also arises: “God has not rejected His people, has He?” (Rom 11:1a). In the next verse the answer comes: “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew” (Rom 11:2a). God had to give them up to their enemies for a time because of the unfaithfulness of the people, but with the goal of bringing them back to Himself. In this way God will continue to take care of His people through the great Deliverer, the Messiah of the people, the Lord Jesus.
Here too, with Midian, God shows that He has not rejected His people. He prepares a deliverer for his task and that is Gideon. When we hear him speak in this verse, we see two things that always go together in someone who is called by God to a task in the midst of His people. These two things are that he identifies himself with God’s people and that he believes the Word of God as it has been handed down to him by the fathers.
14 The Command
14 The LORD looked at him and said, “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?”
Gideon told God how hopeless the situation is. Now he gets the command to change that. Often it is the things we bring to God as a need that He tells us to do something about. We are then for God the most suitable instruments. If someone sees that there is a need for children’s work, he or she will pray for it, possibly without thinking that it would be something for him- or herself. Yet the sense of need already indicates something of the commitment to this work for the Lord.
We can apply this to many other things. However, it only applies to people who, like Gideon, live in fellowship with God. It is about people who give the Lord all the space in their lives. In the lives of such people, Bible reading and prayer take a central place. That’s what their lives are all about, that’s what they draw their strength from.
God does not give Gideon any new power for his command, but says: “Go in this your strength.” What strength is that? That is the strength with which he has kept his food out of the hands of the enemies to enjoy it for himself. This also gives him enough strength to deliver Israel.
What the LORD then says to him must take away all doubt about his commission. Gideon may go in the Name of his Sender. He hears Him say: “Have I not sent you?” This is all that is needed, but also necessary to do a service work. Without Him telling us this, we cannot go. If we go anyway, we will make chunks.
Another important lesson in connection with the call to service work is that God calls someone who is busy. Gideon is at work when he is called. The same can be seen in the calling of the disciples by the Lord Jesus (Mt 4:18-22). God does not seek people who have nothing to do, but people who are diligent in doing ordinary, daily things.
15 A New Objection
15 He said to Him, “O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.”
Gideon puts forward a new argument, which leads him to believe that he cannot meet God’s command: he does not feel able to do so. Now it is always good not to think too high of yourself. To this end, each of us is exhorted in Romans 12, where Paul says “to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think” (Rom 12:3). But this should never be an excuse to withdraw from what God asks of us.
Gideon points out his humble background and the place he occupies in the family to which he belongs. Manasseh is the tribe that is the only one which is divided. One half lives in the land and the other half lives outside of it. He knows what it means to be in a situation of division. Often you have already seen so much quarrel and strife with the additional misery that you no longer like fighting any more, even if that is the good one.
His place in the family – he is the youngest – seems to indicate that he has never really been involved into family life. That also happened to David (1Sam 16:4-11). David is simply forgotten when Samuel has called the whole family together. That can give a feeling that you are worthless, unimportant, that you are of no use. Gideon may have felt like this.
Maybe that’s how we feel. Yet we can be sure that God can start something with us just then. Our weakness and not being counted with others makes us suitable as a tool for God. What God wants to do through us must be ascribed solely to Him and not to us. Is it not great that God wants to use us in our smallness and weakness?
Listen to what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12. When he has prayed to be delivered from something that makes him weak and despicable, the Lord says to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2Cor 12:9a). Paul’s answer is: “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2Cor 12:9b-10). Look, that is what we have to come to. Not feeling strong in our own ability, but feeling weak; then God can do His work with us.
Gideon looks upon himself and then there is no strength. But the small ‘I’ is just as great an obstacle to being used by God as the big ‘I’. If we acknowledge this, we may say what Paul says: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).
16 I Will Be with You
16 But the LORD said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.”
The way the LORD deals with Gideon’s last argument is encouraging. In verse 14 he is supported in his commission by the consciousness that the LORD is his Sender. This gives value to the task he has to perform. In this verse it goes one step further. The LORD says that He Himself goes with him.
This promise of the Lord also applies now. After His resurrection He commands His disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20a). To this He adds, and with this concludes the Gospel according to Matthew, so that these words, as it were, continue to resound in the disciples’ ears: “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20b).
In the past centuries, many people have been encouraged by these words and have fulfilled the task assigned to them. Let us also be encouraged by these words for the tasks we have been given. Even if we have an army of helpers around us, but we do not have the Lord, we will still lose. Even if we are all alone, but we have the Lord at our side, we will be able to defeat the greatest enemy army “as one man”. The history of Gideon will teach us that this is truly the ‘logic’ of faith.
17 The Question for a Sign
17 So Gideon said to Him, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who speak with me.
Gideon is now convinced of his mission and is encouraged by the LORD’s promises. Nevertheless, he has one more request. He wants absolute certainty that he is dealing with the LORD Himself. He considers this assurance essential for the accomplishment of its mission. That is why he asks for a sign.
A good example, worth following that we have is the way in which Gideon asks his question. He does not do this from an attitude that speaks of the right he would have to a sign. His attitude shows that he cannot claim it: “If now I have found favor in Your sight.”
The request for a sign does not fit the New Testament believer. He does not need a sign, because he has the whole Word of God and also the Holy Spirit Who dwells in him. Those who want certainty about a certain matter can read the Word of God and ask God in prayer if He wants to make things clear through His Word and Spirit. God can also use others for this, for example in meetings where the Word is proclaimed, or through personal conversations with believers who live with the Lord.
Gideon does not possess the full revelation of God, nor does he possess the Holy Spirit indwelling in Him. That is why his request for a sign is not wrong. It can be noted that also in the Old Testament, God is most honored by unconditional faith. Nor is it necessary at that time to ask for a sign to know God’s will or to confirm what He had said.
Clear evidence of this can be found in Hebrews 11. Of the believers listed there it is always accompanied by the phrase that they have done something “by faith” without having received any visible signs. Gideon is also mentioned there. He was not guided by signs in the first place, but by faith.
A verse that has been of great significance throughout the ages in the search for the will of God is: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you” (Psa 32:8). As we discuss verses 36-40, we hear a little more about asking for a sign to know the will of God.
18 I Will Remain
18 Please do not depart from here, until I come [back] to You, and bring out my offering and lay it before You.” And He said, “I will remain until you return.”
It is striking: God meets Gideon’s request. It almost seems like a command to Him, but He does what Gideon has asked. How merciful He is in His dealings with Gideon and with us when He sees the sincere desire to honor Him. He then ignores a lot of ignorance. Gideon wants to offer something to the LORD. Through conversation with Him, Gideon’s desire to bring out an offering has arisen. That is what God sees in His heart and He wants to wait for it.
When we have spoken to the Lord Jesus, do we also have the desire to offer Him an offering? We can express ourselves in thanksgiving and expressing our admiration for Him and what He has done.
19 - 20 The Offering
19 Then Gideon went in and prepared a young goat and unleavened bread from an ephah of flour; he put the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, and brought [them] out to him under the oak and presented [them]. 20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread and lay them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And he did so.
While Gideon prepares his offering, the LORD waits patiently. The offering he brings is not small when we consider that it is a time of great scarcity (verse 4).
A young goat, the animal that Gideon prepares as an offering, is usually used to bring a sin offering (Lev 4:23; 16:5). Through this offering Gideon expresses is something from which we can learn a lot. The sin offering is a picture of the Lord Jesus in His work on the cross, where He underwent the judgment of sin. Gideon shows that he is aware that for the sin of the people and for him personally there is only salvation through sacrifice. We know that it speaks of what the Lord Jesus did on the cross.
The other offering he brings, the “unleavened breads from an ephah of flour”, is reminiscent of the meat offering described in different ways in Leviticus 2. This is a non-bloody offering and speaks of the life of the Lord Jesus.
It is a joy for God when we tell Him Who the Lord Jesus was in His life on earth and in His work on the cross. We do not come with literal sacrifices, but with spiritual sacrifices. The Lord Jesus says: “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers” (Jn 4:23). If we have seen anything of the beauty and glory of the Son of God, God the Father will rejoice when we say it to Him.
The Lord Jesus adds something else: “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:24). God does not leave it to our politeness about how we worship Him. He longs for us to come, but also indicates how we should come. It must be “in spirit”, that is, guided by the Holy Spirit, in a spiritual way, and not according to human programming. It must also be in “truth”, that is, according to the revelation He gave of Himself in the Bible and not as we believe we can think of God.
With Gideon this is also the case. In verse 20, God indicates what to do with the offering. He must bring it on the rock, also a picture of Christ (1Cor 10:4b; Mt 16:18). The verse concludes so beautifully with “and he did so”. It indicates the beautiful mind of Gideon. It is to be hoped that this is also our mind.
21 God Accepts the Offering
21 Then the angel of the LORD put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. Then the angel of the LORD vanished from his sight.
The way in which the LORD deals with the offering is impressive. He touches it with the staff He has in His hand. That staff is a ruler’s staff, a scepter. Such a staff is supported by distinguished individuals who have authority over others. It is a sign of royal dignity (Est 4:11; 5:2). The LORD in His exaltedness and majesty accepts the offering that Gideon brings in weakness.
Fire comes out of the rock, a picture of the investigative and testing holiness of God, and devours the offering. After having accepted the offering of Gideon in this way the LORD disappears from sight.
Through this offering, Gideon takes his true place before God. It is only on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice that a person is pleasing to God and God can accept him. This lays the foundation for Gideon’s further service.
22 Woe to Me
22 When Gideon saw that he was the angel of the LORD, he said, “Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.”
Then it sounds “alas” in the sense of “woe to me”. Gideon has become aware that he has stood face-to-face with God. This consciousness breaks him. Every thought of oneself and one’s own powerlessness disappears. Only the LORD remains in His greatness and glory, and that is the right starting point for the coming battle. It makes one small and at the same time it gives confidence.
In Isaiah we see the same reaction when he is called by God. He beholds the LORD sitting on a high and exalted throne, hearing the seraphs crying out to one another, “ “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, … Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips” (Isa 6:1-5). Isaiah comes to this personal exclamation after in Isaiah 5 he has spoken “woe to them” up to six times over different groups of people and the different sins they commit (Isa 5:8-23).
Before he can be sent to them, he must first acknowledge that he himself is no better. God brings him to this end by placing him face to face with Himself and His glory. That makes him cry out a ‘woe’ for the seventh time, but then over himself. Then the LORD gives Isaiah the proof of reconciliation and he is ready to go where He wants to send him and to do what He asks of him: “Here am I. Send me!” (Isa 6:6-8).
This is the best and most thorough way to prepare the servant for his task. On the one hand it gives a deep impression of who man is and shows his own unworthiness and incompetence. On the other hand, that impression is made in the presence of God the Almighty, and that is an enormous encouragement to do what He asks of us. He sends and is with everyone who stands on the basis of the sacrifice of His Son (Jdg 6:14,16,21).
23 - 24 Peace
23 The LORD said to him, “Peace to you, do not fear; you shall not die.” 24 Then Gideon built an altar there to the LORD and named it The LORD is Peace. To this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
Then Gideon hears the words “peace to you” from the mouth of the LORD. He doesn’t have to be afraid because he stood face to face with the LORD. He was accepted by God through sacrifice, right? He can now go in peace. Many have received this peace for their conscience after they have accepted in faith the work of the Lord Jesus: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). This is the peace of which the Lord Jesus speaks when He says: “Peace I leave with you” (Jn 14:27a).
Because of the peace with God that the Lord Jesus worked on the cross, there is no place left for fear of God. Being afraid of God in fact means failing to appreciate His appreciation of the work of the Lord Jesus. God accepted the work of His Son and gave proof of it by raising Him from the dead and giving Him a place in heaven at His right hand.
Gideon’s fear is gone and he builds an altar with the beautiful name: “The LORD is peace.” This shows that Gideon no longer suffers from fear. He does not take his own feelings as a starting point, but the LORD Himself. The peace he now possesses is not the result of a good feeling, but of Whom the LORD is. He has made that peace. That makes Gideon a worshipper, of which the altar speaks that he builds. Here we see the first effect of receiving peace: God is worshipped for it.
This peace also has a practical effect on Gideon’s life. This should also be the case in our lives. He has shown the inner peace he now possesses in fulfilling the task entrusted to him. That peace has remained a testimony in the area where he lives. It is not a passing peace. He lived in that peace and thus fought the enemies.
This is the peace of which the Lord Jesus speaks when He says: “My peace I give to you” (Jn 14:27b). This peace is His own peace that He has in the way He has gone because the Father had instructed Him to go that way. This peace may be the part of anyone who has a task to perform by order of God. It is this peace that the various writers at the beginning of many New Testament letters wish to their readers.
25 The First Command: Pull down and Cut down
25 Now on the same night the LORD said to him, “Take your father’s bull and a second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal which belongs to your father, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it;
Gideon receives his first command after God has brought him into the right relationship to Him. Now God can start using him. But before He allows Gideon to perform in public, he first has to work in his family. He has to start at home. The same the Lord Jesus makes clear to His disciples when He instructs them to testify of Him and thus “beginning from Jerusalem” (Lk 24:47), that is, in their immediate environment, close to home. Then they can go on to “all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The mission Gideon receives is clear. He has just built an altar for the LORD and at home there is still an altar for the Baal. These two altars do not tolerate each other. He who builds an altar for the Lord, must come to destroy every other altar. Only then can a testimony be given in the battle for the Lord. The Baal must be removed first, otherwise the victory could be attributed to him. The Asherah, the sacred pole that stands next to it, must also be removed. The sacred pole seems to be a kind of protection of the altar. Both the altar and the pole have to be cut down. Here the name Gideon, ‘one who hews down’, is given its practical meaning.
In the altar of Baal we can see the reverence that people can have for all kinds of things in their lives, without God having His place in it. We remember that Baal means ‘lord’. For example, there may be things in our lives that have authority over us that dominate us. We use plausible reasons to make ourselves aware that these things should be present in our lives.
An example can clarify things. A certain sport can occupy such a large place in our lives that we do everything for it. We tell ourselves that it is useful for our bodies. To be used by the Lord, we will have to condemn both our attitude toward the sport and our utility reasons. By this I do not mean to say that it is wrong to do sport. I just want to point out that it can be an ‘altar’ in our lives that needs to be cut down, along with the wrong ideas with which we defend this ‘altar’.
26 The Second Task: To Build and To Offer
26 and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of this stronghold in an orderly manner, and take a second bull and offer a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah which you shall cut down.”
Hewing down the wrong is not the only task Gideon gets. He also has to build a new altar. Then he has to offer his father’s second bull with the wood of the Asherah, the sacred pole. What does all this mean? Something new must take the place of the old. The old has to do with the Baal, the new with the LORD.
In verse 24, Gideon spontaneously builds an altar to express the worship that is in his heart for the LORD. Now God orders him to build a new altar. You could call this the altar of his testimony for God. He has to build it in a place that is visible to everyone. With this he openly shows that he chooses against Baal and for God.
Together with the second bull, the wood of the sacred pole must be sacrificed. That is, all the reasoning we have had so far to justify our service to the ‘Baal’ will find its end in the sacrificial death of Christ. We recognize that in the death of Christ, all thoughts arising from our flesh are judged.
The second bull speaks of the Lord Jesus. The second is preferred over the first. This is reminiscent of the “first man” and the “second Man” (1Cor 15:47). The first man, Adam, has failed; the second Man, that is Christ, has answered God’s wishes in all things. Gideon has to take the second bull because it is a beautiful reflection of the Lord Jesus, Who has always served God with complete dedication, opposite to a constantly failing people.
27 Gideon Does It at Night
27 Then Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the LORD had spoken to him; and because he was too afraid of his father’s household and the men of the city to do it by day, he did it by night.
In the company of ten servants, Gideon sets off to carry out his assignment. In Ruth 4 we also find ten men (Rth 4:2). They propose an adequate testimony, as the law is. What Gideon does, can be confirmed by these men, they can testify what happened and how it happened. When it comes to acting, Gideon is not a loner, someone who does everything alone. He makes sure that he is backed by witnesses. However, he did not yet have the courage to give his testimony in broad daylight. He does it at night.
Who will blame him? I remember very well that for the first time, I was going to spread gospel tracts in the neighborhood where I lived then. I only did that in the evening, when it had become dark. Nicodemus is also such a person. He too does not dare to openly admit at first that he has an interest in the Lord Jesus (Jn 3:2). But that has changed. Later in the Gospel according to John we hear how he stands up for the Lord Jesus against his fellow Pharisees (Jn 7:50-51). And later, his love for the Lord Jesus becomes apparent when he comes with “a mixture of myrrh and aloes” when the Lord is buried (Jn 19:39-42). Both in John 7 and in John 19 it is recalled that he “had first come to Him by night”.
In any case, Gideon acts in obedience. And if there is obedience, the consequences can be left to God. If we do what God asks of us, God does for us what we cannot do. God stands up for Gideon against his enemies.
28 - 32 Overcoming the Opposition
28 When the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was torn down, and the Asherah which was beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar which had been built. 29 They said to one another, “Who did this thing?” And when they searched about and inquired, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash did this thing.” 30 Then the men of the city said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has torn down the altar of Baal, and indeed, he has cut down the Asherah which was beside it.” 31 But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal, or will you deliver him? Whoever will plead for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because someone has torn down his altar.” 32 Therefore on that day he named him Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him,” because he had torn down his altar.
The next day, when the inhabitants of the city discover what has happened, there is great consternation. After investigation it appears that Gideon is the culprit. That is why his life is demanded.
There is nothing which arises more enmity than contempt for one’s religion. You get the anger of supporters on your neck when you dare to say something negative about their club. Sport, especially football in the Netherlands, has become a religion. Biblical expressions are used to glorify football stars. They are called ‘sons of the gods’.
And what about the power of Islam? Testimonies from converted Muslims state that they are threatened with death, because their faith in the Lord Jesus means that they have renounced Islam. This shows before God that their former religion has become worthless to them. The same often applies to a converted Jew. Anyone who chooses the true God in an environment where people have made gods according to their own imagination, and openly expresses this will have to take into account strong opposition.
This public testimony regarding God is the moment when He brings a turn in the events. Behind the scenes, He stands up for Gideon. He uses Gideon’s father for this. Gideon’s boldness at night made his father bold during the day. Gideon’s father makes a call to the minds of the inhabitants of the city with a sober story. He states quite simply that if Baal is a god, he should avenge himself for the irreverence he has been subjected to. This is reminiscent of the challenge Elijah expresses in his confrontation with the priests of Baal on the question of who really is God (1Kgs 18:27).
The men of the city have no reply. They only give Gideon the name “Jerubbaal”, in which they express that they expect Baal to avenge himself on Gideon. This name seems to have become an honorary name when it appears that nothing happens to Gideon.
Through what Gideon has done what is in people’s hearts is revealed. They clearly declare that they acknowledge Baal as their god. When we openly stand up for God and His truth, it also makes clear today what lives in the hearts of those around us.
The people who want to kill Gideon for what he has done are people from his own city. If we clearly testify in word and deed that we have chosen the Lord Jesus, we will meet resistance. Most opposition may come from those who are closest to us, but do not partake in the Lord Jesus, while they feel themselves to be very religious. If we, as children of God, see the wrong in our own lives and remove it from it, it hurts if it is not the world that makes remarks about it, but fellow believers that react negatively to it.
If we choose for God against the wrong, we can count on God to stand up for us. He is on our side. How He shows this is different in every situation. It is certain that He will give an unexpected outcome if we do faithfully and obediently what He asks of us, just as He did with Gideon.
33 - 35 The Spirit Fills Gideon
33 Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the sons of the east assembled themselves; and they crossed over and camped in the valley of Jezreel. 34 So the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon; and he blew a trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called together to follow him. 35 He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, and they also were called together to follow him; and he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they came up to meet them.
The enemy becomes active every time things happen in God’s people that speak of a renewed awareness that God is there and that only He is entitled to His people. We have seen this activity in the enemy also in Judges 4 (Jdg 4:12-13). The enemy is getting ready to confirm and strengthen his claim on the land. That is the moment when the Spirit of the LORD comes upon Gideon. Literally it says that the Spirit of the LORD clothes Himself with Gideon. The Spirit simply uses Gideon as His clothing. The Spirit is in Gideon and Gideon is the shell (cf. 1Chr 12:18).
Of course the Spirit is already active in this chapter but now He comes in Gideon to work through him and to chase away the enemy. It is one thing to know that the Spirit is active in your life; it is another thing to actually let the Spirit use you to achieve victories in your life.
What has been mentioned in the previous verses about Gideon is a preparation to make him someone who can be used by the Holy Spirit. In that preparation Gideon has shown his faithfulness and obedience to the LORD. This is the fertile soil on which the Holy Spirit can build further. It is said to us: “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). The command – for that it is – to be filled with the Spirit follows some things that should not or should not be present in a Christian walk of life. He who is filled with the Spirit cannot at that moment be led by the flesh.
After the command to be filled with the Spirit follows: “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph 5:19). This is a wonderful result of being filled with the Spirit. What we have to say to each other will then happen in a melodious way, regardless of whether it is about encouragement, comfort or admonition. It seems that we can compare this with the blowing of the trumpet by Gideon. The result is that the Abiezrites, that is his family, come to him.
If the Spirit of God has the opportunity to fill the hearts, it is the beginning of the end of the battle among the believers. After all, Midian means ‘strife’? Through the trumpet – a picture of the Word of God we listen to – the people are gathered and unity is created. If we strive to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3), the battle will cease.
Gideon also sends messengers to his own tribe, Manasseh, and to other, northern tribes. They all join him. Manasseh is the only tribe in Israel that is divided over two areas. There is one half in the land, the other half is outside the land, on the wilderness side of the Jordan. Because of this Gideon knows from his own experience what division means. Perhaps this has been an extra incentive for him to do everything possible to bring about unity among God’s people.
Those who know what division is, caused by struggles within their own ranks with its disastrous consequences, will fight to bring God’s people back together and keep them together. Every division among the people of God causes much suffering among believers and is to the Lord’s dishonor.
This does not mean that at all costs the unity must be preserved or processed. The unity to be preserved is that of the Spirit, not that of the flesh or any other unity made by man. However, that does not take away the pain and shame of such an event. It is to be hoped that the Spirit will have the opportunity to work in our lives to promote the welfare of the church and to make its unity visible.
36 - 40 The Fleece
36 Then Gideon said to God, “If You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken, 37 behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken.” 38 And it was so. When he arose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece, he drained the dew from the fleece, a bowl full of water. 39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not let Your anger burn against me that I may speak once more; please let me make a test once more with the fleece, let it now be dry only on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground.” 40 God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground.
It is remarkable how God meets all of Gideon’s questions with reference to his mission. God has already clearly told what He wants of Gideon (verses 14-16). When Gideon asks for a sign, He gives it (verse 17). Now Gideon asks for confirmation of his assignment, even twice. He is not accused, but God gives him what he asks for, even up to two times.
The ‘putting of a fleece’ has become proverbial when it comes to knowing the will of God in a particular matter. It is asking for a sign to confirm the fulfilment of a task that someone wants to take on. In itself, it is not wrong for anyone to want certainty about what they want to do for the Lord.
Something has already been said about the questioning of a sign in the discussion of verse 17. The following can be added in connection with ‘the fleece’. God can also make clear or confirm His will through the circumstances in which a person finds himself or ends up. An example we see in the life of Joni Eareckson Tada. This woman became completely disabled as a result of a dive in shallow water through which she broke her neck. She is still used by God in a special way.
Now it is not necessary that our circumstances change as drastically as it happened with hers. It is about indicating that things can happen in our lives through which we know: this is what God asks of me. That, by the way, will never be things that go against His Word. If, for example, a believer prays for a spouse and the circumstances seem to bring someone on his way, but it turns out to be an unbeliever, then this can never be the guidance of God. For He forbids in His Word that a believer marries an unbeliever (2Cor 6:14).
Now a word about the spiritual meaning of the fleece in relation to the land around it and the dew. A sign means something, represents something, refers to something. Dew speaks of refreshment. It is the freshness of a new day. The Old Testament describes dew several times as a blessing from heaven for the land of God.
When Gideon asks in the first sign for dew on the fleece and drought on the earth around it, it seems like a representation of the blessing of God for His earthly people Israel, while the peoples around them have no part in it. Israel has forfeited the blessing by rejecting its Messiah, but it is kept for later. Perhaps we can see this symbolically represented in draining the dew from the fleece, filling a bowl with water for later use.
The second sign represents the opposite, because now the fleece stays dry and the earth around it gets wet by the dew. This means that, after the rejection of the Messiah by Israel, God puts His people aside and He blesses the nations.
Both ‘signs’ can be found in the letter to the Romans. There we read as to Israel about “their transgression”, “their failure”, “their rejection”. These expressions show that they have been set aside by God. As a result of “their transgression salvation [has come] to the Gentiles”, and there is talk of the “riches for the world”, “the riches for the Gentiles” and “the reconciliation of the world” (Rom 11:11-15).
But that does not mean that Israel has been rejected forever. There will come a time which in that section is called “their fulfillment” and “acceptance”. Then Israel will still receive the blessing. In both signs it is clear that God does it. Gideon contributes nothing to it. Only God is able to give the blessing, both to Israel and to the whole world.
The place where Gideon lays down the fleece is also important. He chooses the threshing floor. That is the place where he first met the LORD and where he showed his appreciation for God’s blessing (verse 11). There he was busy with the fruit of the land. From the place that speaks of the judgment that the Lord Jesus underwent on the cross, all the refreshment and strength comes to do the work that we are instructed to do.
As said, Gideon doesn’t have to do anything. What he does do, is get up early, in which he shows his longing for the result. The way in which Gideon addresses the LORD here, resembles that of Abraham in his intercession for Sodom for the benefit of Lot (Gen 18:23-33; 19:29).